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I was in Chicago on a cold and snowy day when I saw the de-icing trucks coming down Michigan Avenue. They looked strange, like fuel tankers, and not the salt-trucks I am used to seeing here in New England. As it passed by, I noticed a sign on the side that read, “Beet Juice.”
As it turns out, the streets of Chicago will in fact run red. But with ink, not with beet juice. Many city authorities are turning to a mixture of salt and beet juice because of claims that beet juice as a deicer is safer for the environment and our cars than corrosive, pollutive salt. The juice allows the de-icing solution to work at lower temperatures, and it apparently keeps the salt bonded to the road better (glue would serve the same purpose too).

I cannot say whether the stuff works better, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. What I can say is that one gallon of the beet juice costs $2.60. That’s right, it costs almost what a gallon of gasoline costs. The equilvalent amount of salt costs 4 cents. Call me a skeptic, but if I am constantly barraged with outcries of how state and local governments are going bankrupt, even my skeptical self finds it hard to believe that they would pursue road clearing strategies that are 6,500 times more expensive that what they are using today – whatever the benefits. Given that logic, why not just rebuild all the roads to have electric heating coils in them?

The larger point however is that I do not trust anyone when I am told that using technologies that are 6,500 times more expensive is a good idea. Maybe in the long run it is. I doubt it. It is not unthinkable that interest groups are often working behind the scenes to have these schemes foisted upon unwitting taxpayers, and use the cover of sensible environmental concerns to push their agenda. Maybe it is not happening in this case. But I doubt it. Especially since it seems that the subsidies rained down on beet growers seems to have tapered off.

One Response to “Beet-leggers and Baptists”

  1. Econobran says:

    They did the same thing where I live. The newspaper here quoted that price of the beet juice mixture being in excess of 3 dollars per gallon. We had an ice storm a week earlier, so this time the road department decided to pre-treat the roads with this beet juice mixture. In my humble opinion, I would say that it worked marginally better. However, I don’t think the excess costs justify the new method. It allowed some of the ice to melt more quickly, but left a slushy mess on the roads — which is still very slick. I would be upset if my tax dollars continued to be used on this method. I hadn’t heard the environmental argument, but even so, I think you are right on target — $0.04 vs. $3.04. No contest in my mind.

    Did you receive my email response from a week or so ago? I didn’t receive a reply, so I wasn’t sure if you didn’t get my response or if you were just really busy. Keep up the good work on the blog!

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